Moeller's late interception sends Bears into 3A semis
RIFLE — Roosevelt High School’s football team put the top-ranked Rifle Bears in an unfamiliar spot Saturday afternoon, but the Bears persevered.
Ryan Moeller’s 91-yard interception return for a touchdown as time expired halted the Roughriders’ late comeback bid from a three-touchdown deficit, preserving Rifle’s 48-34 victory in the Class 3A state quarterfinals and moving the Bears one win away from their first state title game since 2005.
“I guess it goes with the saying: ‘It’s great to have had that experience, but it’s not very fun going through it,’ ” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “It is great to have had that experience now. Going through it was a little tough.”
No doubt, Rifle couldn’t roll over Roosevelt like it had most of its opponents over the course of the season. After the Bears went ahead 42-21 with 7 minutes, 15 seconds remaining, Roosevelt rallied, pulling within a touchdown, and the Roughriders were within striking distance of tying the game in the waning seconds.
That’s when Moeller, a safety and running back, came up with the game-saving pick, bringing in a deflected pass from Roosevelt quarterback Spencer Urban and racing up the sideline and into the end zone as the final horn expired, sending the home crowd at Bears Stadium into a cheering frenzy.
“It was a little jaw-dropping, because they just kept passing and passing and finding the holes in our coverage,” said Moeller, who also picked off the first pass of the game thrown by Urban. “They did their job and did really well, so it’s not like they didn’t earn that. That (interception) was nice. It put everyone’s mind at ease.”
Rifle (12-0) can now shift its mind to the 3A semifinals, which likely will be played this coming Saturday afternoon. The Bears will play at fifth-seeded Pueblo East (10-2), a 35-24 winner at Delta in another quarterfinal Saturday.
Moeller wasn’t just big on defense for Rifle. Including his return yardage off his interceptions, the senior finished with 425 all-purpose yards. He had 196 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries, 109 receiving yards and two scores on three catches, and 120 yards off his interception returns.
Not the be outdone, Rifle quarterback Adam Rice finished 7 of 8 for 201 yards and a pair of scores, and Isaac Rider scored on an 82-yard run halfway through the fourth quarter, which put the Bears up 42-21 after Marco Gutierrez’s point-after kick.
Roosevelt (7-5) was able to move the ball consistently on a Rifle defense that had allowed only 35 points all season coming into Saturday’s game. The Roughriders amassed 494 yards of total offense, switching from an effective read-option run game in the first three quarters to a one-dimensional passing attack in the fourth quarter with ease.
Urban, who finished 15-of-23 passing for 205 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions, was 12-of-17 passing for 177 yards and a score in the fourth quarter. He also finished with 110 rushing yards on 21 carries, but Rifle limited him to no rushing yardage on five carries in the second half.
The halftime adjustments Rifle made were no more evident than at the start of the third quarter, when Roosevelt’s Tanner Starr recovered a fumble by Rider on Rifle’s 21-yard line. Rifle, however, only allowed eight yards and forced the Roughriders to turn the ball over on downs.
And the response to adversity continued for the Bears who, on the next play from scrimmage, had an 85-yard scoring strike from Rice to Kellin Leigh called back because of a holding penalty. So, after the ball was moved back to the Bears’ 5, Rice rolled right and threw a screen to Moeller, who accelerated past three Roosevelt defenders and scampered 95 yards into the end zone with 2:29 gone in the second half.
“To me, that was the game right there,” Roosevelt coach Noland Eastin said of his team’s offensive series after the turnover. “They actually gave us a front, and we tried to (change the play) and call an audible. But the crowd was so loud that we couldn’t get it checked, and they stuffed it. And they scored right away after that. That’s a big, big turnaround right there.”
Roosevelt bounced back on its next series, though, capping a nine-play, 70-yard drive with a 10-yard run from Josh Semmler to pull within 28-21. Rifle scored on its next two possessions, however, getting a 10-yard TD pass from Rice to Moeller and Rider’s 82-yard TD run with 7:15 left.
But the Roughriders weren’t done, pulling within two touchdowns on Urban’s one-yard plunge with 4:53 remaining. Rifle’s next possession stalled, and Roosevelt scored again on Semmler’s 19-yard TD pass from Urban with 45 seconds left.
Christian Majszak recovered the ensuing onside kick, giving Roosevelt the ball on Rifle’s 48, and the Roughriders reached the Rifle 25 on an eight-yard pass from Urban to Omar Rivera with 16.8 seconds left. But after Urban spiked the ball to stop the clock, his next pass to Mark Rios went high, deflected off Rios’s hands and into the arms of Moeller.
“That felt good,” linebacker Cody Beauford said of seeing Moeller streaking down the sideline. “But now we’ve got to put this in the past. We’ve got to get ready for next week.”